British Chamber of Commerce calls for China-UK free trade deal amid COVID-19, Brexit worries
By Abhishek G Bhaya
The British Chamber of Commerce in China (BCCC) has called on the UK government to prioritize trade negotiations with China and work towards a bilateral free-trade deal as the world continues its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and Britain seeks to devise a post-Brexit economic strategy.
The push for a China-UK free trade agreement (FTA) came as the BCCC released its Position Paper 2020 on British Businesses in China, in Beijing on Tuesday.
"China is the UK's second largest non-EU trading partner. We call on the UK to prioritize China in its negotiations for an FTA. The economic gain for British business will be significant. In a post-Brexit world, an FTA with China will be vital to both realizing the UK's global ambitions and rebuilding our economies after COVID-19," BCCC Managing Director Steve Lynch told CGTN Digital.
"On a bilateral level, the UK and China have fostered a constructive trade relationship and the two economies remain complementary. This is particularly true in terms of the UK's global leadership in the service sector, innovation and China's increasing leadership in new technologies. The British Chamber of Commerce in China calls for the UK to have more open and transparent dialogue with China," he said.
Lynch said that the position paper focuses on the challenges and opportunities in China as well as calling on British government and businesses for a more open dialogue with China. It also provides constructive recommendations for government and opportunities for British investors.
"The goal of the position paper is to advocate for a fair, open, transparent and well-regulated operating environment in China where British businesses can grow and realize their full potential," according to the foreword of the paper, signed jointly by BCCC Chairman St John Moore, and British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai Chairperson Rosie Hawes.
The findings of this year's paper reflected the views of British businesses throughout the year, but also acknowledged the immense economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last four months.
The majority of British businesses expect their 2020 China revenues to drop by more than 10 percent, and companies are concerned about the impact of travel restrictions and reduced consumer demand both in China and globally.
The inability of senior management to return to China and for those that have regional or global roles based in China to conduct business travel is having a tangible and detrimental effect on investment and growth strategies, the paper noted.
"While the risk of a second wave of infection must be taken seriously, governments around the world must not prolong impediments to safe and controlled travel resumption in order to nurture continued investment and inter-connectivity," it recommended.
The paper also noted that the Chinese government has enacted notable reforms to the business environment and market openings over the last 12 months.
"We believe that sustained growth in the Chinese economy will depend on China's ability to foster an environment where the best and brightest come to invest, live and work, where companies compete and succeed on equal terms and where resources flow to support the best talent and ideas to flourish, regardless of origin," the foreword said.
"This will unleash the full potential of British business and support critical economic growth and job creation," it added.
The UK's approach to China must be balanced and informed and must not be swayed by external political pressures, the paper said, stressing that an interconnected world and open markets are crucial for supporting growth and creating new opportunities.
"But the past few months have demonstrated the ease with which populist and protectionist politics can disrupt international relationships and increase business risk," it stated, urging the UK and China to "resist this urge."
Noting that China is witnessing the "green shoots of recovery" in the aftermath of COVID-19, the paper underlined that such positive developments are not yet visible in all markets.
"Navigating this uncertainty requires constructive bilateral and multilateral dialogue and engagement. Only with all countries working together can we address the risk of severe economic recession and other global challenges," it concluded.